Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ford Stole Tech for Best-Selling Trucks from MIT, Professors Say (bloomberg.com)
162 points by sndean on Feb 4, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 70 comments

The patents (8,069,839, 9,255,519, 9,810,166, and 10,138,826) are strange. Each describes a system where both gasoline and ethanol are available in separate tanks and the mixing is controlled to minimize knock. That's a dead end as a commercial product. The claims, though, were drafted to cover a system where the fuel enters the cylinder through both a port and direct injection, allowing some tweaking. It's a stretch to claim these patents cover a single-fuel engine.

Ford can probably argue that the claims are not supported by the specification.

I wish journalists would stop using the "theft" metaphor for patent infringement. It's misleading and wrong, especially when there are other forms of IP malfeasance (e.g. theft of trade secrets) that are much more appropriately called "theft".

So they say they own a patent for dual port- and direct-injection? It will be interesting to see how it plays out; Ford is hardly the only company using the technique on their DI engines. I also wonder if it will pass a sniff test -- is using traditional port injection on a DI engine novel enough to be patented? I guess I can see where it might be, but what a low bar for innovation we have.

I wouldn't think it's novel enough. Toyota and Subaru have been using it for years. I had no idea Ford was doing this as well. It's a good idea. The port injection prevents carbon buildup on the valves and ports.

To anyone wondering about carbon buildup on direct injection, my best (although generically broad and not 100% perfectly accurate) explanation is this:

Traditional fuel injection systems spray a fine mist of fuel in such a way that it washes over the valve(s) from the top of the engine cylinder, which has an added effect of “cleaning” off some carbon/particulate build up that naturally occurs. Direct injection variants typically inject the fuel mist more directly in the cylinder, in a tighter time frame to the piston reaching its optimal position in the firing cycle, with the injector(s) generally placed in a position where they are not wasting as much fuel bathing valves and such, which can lead to carbon buildups that wouldn’t normally occur with more standard fuel injection systems.

To those that know much better than me, I apologize for butchering the explanation and do feel free to correct my poor explanation- no offense will be taken.

I have an F-150 EcoBoost and have been a lifelong gearhead. I was worried about carbon buildup on direct injection and spent some time researching the motor before buying (I bought a used 2015 in 2018, so lots of factory bulletins and long term maintenance feedback). It seems to not be too bad of an issue _but_ an additional mitigation step can be taken by installing a two stage oil separator inline to help capture the materials before they build up. It’s popular enough that there are direct fit products for many makes/models of autos with DI, as well as universal fit. I however, have seen no conclusive long term studies to the actual effectiveness of them long term.

That being said, I could see how it would be effective and after installing my collector kit I have seen no obvious negative consequences. Fuel mileage, perceived performance, objective dyno performance have all been the same or slightly (very slightly) better.

Yes, I did spend time (1 month) collecting before and after data, and I have access to a rear wheel dyno to collect as objective data as I could.

I have a DI engine (Volkswagen 2.0 TSI), the carbon build-up is very annoying / expensive. I think they still have not fixed it, but not entirely sure:


Oh yeah, I used to have a used BMW with an N54 engine with the same issue. I ended up buying a media blaster, crushed walnut shells and cleaned up the ports preemptively.

CRC intake cleaner seems to work the OK for a homegamer solution. Make sure to follow directions, as they are not obvious. Best used every 20k or so on GDI engines.

Combining technologies can be tricky and it is usually worthwhile to look a little deeper when you are doing it at what the patent is claiming.

I’m confused as to who actually owns the patents. The title says “Ford stole tech [...] from MIT, professors say”, but the lawsuit is “Ethanol Boosting Systems LLC v. Ford Motor Co.”.

I’m not certain how IP rights works at MIT, but if the patents are owned by MIT, wouldn’t MIT be the party that needs to sue? If so, why is it instead “Ethanol Boosting Systems”? Does MIT feel that MIT IP was stolen?

From the article:

>The professors transferred ownership of their creations to MIT, one of the premier U.S. research universities, which then granted exclusive patent-licensing rights to a small company the three men founded, Ethanol Boosting Systems LLC. EBS offered to license patents on the enhancements to Ford in 2014, but the company declined.

If EBS doesn't get paid, then MIT doesn't get paid.

I'm curious as to who funded the research in the first place.

MIT. MIT is not a university, it is a private corporation which monetizes the research it discovers.

MIT is also a university; the two elements of their existence are orthogonal, not mutually exclusive.

University research divisions are usually spun out as commercial entities around a technology that was developed. Ethanol Boosting Systems LLC is owned by MIT.

Since the article is not helpful on details:

A Delaware docket search indicates the patents in question are US 8,069,839 B2 ;US 9,255,519 B2 ;US 9,810,166 B2 ;US 10,138,826 B2

The 826 issued end of November, 2018. Independent claims 12, 21, and 31 are for dual injection system engines.

Given that Bloomberg indicate only infringement of one patent, I speculate that is the 826 patent issued in late 2018. Now that 826 is issued, they are able to pursue.

826 is a continuation filing in the family that starts with 7,314,033. I haven't looked at the family, nor tried to make any appraisal of merit.

Having now looked at the 826 patent, I'm inclined to agree with Animats' comment elsewhere in this thread regarding the claims vs. the specification, which plainly shows two separate fuel systems that hold two different fuel types.

“Greedy inventors”

Said the car company exec... Jesus what balls. Still, MIT isn’t exactly small and lacking funding, so I’d expect this to drag on until an inevitable undisclosed settlement.


I know a country in the West which used to feel the same way about European companies

is it Laos?

China - They consider hardware to be open source. Whoever produces it "en masse" wins. I like it: I have an Honor 10 from Huawei: Really cool: An iPhone with Android :-D for 380$

Ha! I work with some talented engineers at a big tech company. This topic sort of came up at a happy hour event.

Their culture is different. In the west, we think you’re really something if you invent or innovate something on your own. Their view is it doesn’t matter if you take something from someone because you still have to work to do something with the concept or technology.

I get their perspective. On one hand, yeah it sucks if you work hard or invest massive capital to innovate in some area. On the other hand, if your economy is at an advantage, others in the emerging world are left behind and they’ll always be playing catch up, paying royalties, or locked out completely.

>it doesn’t matter if you take something from someone because you still have to work to do something with the concept or technology.

Thats a rather convenient rationalization for poor behavior.

Well, the same can be said to "I invented it, it's mine" behavior. A rather convenient rationalization for poor behavior -- in favor of the profit of the inventor (and usually not even that, the patent holder, which can easily be a patent troll or a rent-seeker) -- rather than the society at large or those that can put the invention into practice.

It's as if it's a matter of worldview, rather than some fixed idea that this is good or this is bad. It's also as if their version is closer to the "information wants to be free", "down with patents" etc spirit.

(Not that their companies do it out of altruistic ideology. But for the spirit of the culture at large, that can be said, as it is more communal and less individualistic, e.g. see Confucianism).

Then there's the "We stole foreign IP by the truckloads when we didn't have many inventions of our own to bootstrap ourselves with, but now that we're the ones inventing stuff nobody should do it anymore" rationalization...


It takes a lot of effort and risk to pick-pocket, so I guess it's ok if you do it by that logic.

Not sure about that argument.

Isn't the "effort and risk" usually what those in favor of patents propose? Lest there's no compensation of the inventor for their effort, and we stop having inventions or something?

> Well, the same can be said to "I invented it, it's mine" behavior.

I completely agree.

However this doesn't make taking an idea and running wild with it acceptable either. There is some grey area here.

Yeah, if you steal wheat from the farmer you still have to work to mill it, make into dough, knead it, bake it in the oven...

Or sell the wheat to someone else for less than market value because you don’t have to own land, equipment, hire people, learn to grow it, plant the seeds, look after the crop, deal with insects and other issues, manage regulatory requirements, pay property taxes, provide health insurance, carry liability and property insurance, deal with the losses during a bad season or failed experiments, have a financial buffer to deal with market fluctuations...and more.

Yeah, aside from that stealing something from someone who created it takes the same effort as that expended by the rightful owner.

Except this analogy doesn't make any sense, because what's "stolen" here is the IP. So it's not like stealing wheat from a farmer. It's like a farmer stumbling upon a plant useful for food production, calling it "wheat", figuring out how to plant and harvest it, and then demanding that he be the one who controls who can or can not grow or use this new "wheat" thing, and that he gets paid by all other farmers who grow it. And then someone else (the "thief") calls bullshit, and grows this "wheat" anyway.

Applying language for material items (like "stealing") to IP only muddies the waters. There's plenty of cases where one could find moral justification for compensating the "inventor" (e.g. countless of hours invested in try-and-error search, use of expensive equipment), and there's plenty more of cases where the purported "inventor" is just a greedy asshole trying to get rich by abusing the society (e.g. patent trolls, DMCA abuse, speculative patenting by companies and individuals alike). In times where IP frameworks are both misaligned with the nature of information, and frequently abused to prevent the very things they're ostensibly meant to promote, this whole space needs a total overhaul.

China's approach may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but taking a global view of technological development, it's probably for the better.

The issue here is that the addition of work later in the process, does not mean there is no work -- and thus no claim to value -- earlier in the process. It's a response to it doesn’t matter if you take something from someone because you still have to work to do something with the concept or technology.. Just because people have to work to make something saleable of the concept or technology, doesn't change anything.

You might argue that "finding" or "discovering" stuff is not work and in naive cases you are right. Regarding wheat, though:

* There is a lot of work that has gone into virtually all edible wheat varieties. We don't eat wild wheat.

* Finding stuff you can actually eat was at one time a lot of work, and sometimes dangerous.

* Saving seeds and saving the knowledge of identifying characteristics of food stuffs was at one time far more difficult than it is now.

If people do work, and we benefit from it, and they don't benefit from us benefitting, that's crooked.

I'm not arguing discovery is not work. I'm arguing about the limits on returns on discovery, because those need to be balanced with the rest of society.

In this particular example, from a more global point of view, it would be best if the farmer who discovered new food was incentivized to share the knowledge without restrictions, as widely as possible, because not doing so means lots of unnecessary people sick or dead.

> If people do work, and we benefit from it, and they don't benefit from us benefitting, that's crooked.

I agree, but there has to be diminishing returns on that benefit. Otherwise, each discovery is forever holding the civilization hostage. You can't run an economy based mostly on rewarding the estates of inventors for their past inventions. At some point the discovery has to be owned collectively, by everyone, and become a building block for next discoveries.

Current western IP systems sorta recognize that, at least in theory. In practice, we're dealing with a) protection periods not reflecting the reality of modern industries, and essentially putting a brake on progress; b) a system that's thoroughly gamed, and no longer serves the interests of society. Between ridiculous copyright extensions, vague patents, obvious patents, speculative patents, trolling, rights trading, MAD via patents, the system legitimizes rent seeking, and does not incentivize people to create/discover things in order for them to benefit the whole.

well to be sure - to add some details in your analogy for it to be an exact comparison, the farmer "stumbled" on this plant in someone else's nursery. a nursery that person nurtured for quite some time and expects to get a return on

A lot of ideas at home are stolen in one fashion or another. We just happen to have a legal system that allows you to reap the benefits of your innovation alone or license out and get royalties or some combination of the two, assuming you’re the first to patent it or assuming you have enough political or financial capital to pursue litigation.

Imo calling it poor behavior is subjective. If your culture doesn’t value being the first to discover or invent something like the west, then any notion of it being poor behavior falls apart.

To be clear, I’m not defending the behavior. If my invention was stolen, I’d be upset. I am, however, presenting the other side the way it was explained to me.

Intellectual property is a relatively new idea. In the past you had to keep something secret or others would copy your ideas.

Rapid economic growth and massive technological advancement is also a relatively new thing. Wonder if that's coincidental?


Could you please stop? Asked and answered: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18758864.

Stop what? Pointing out the reality of rampant anti-Chinese sentiment on HN?

Even with:

> We moderate HN to mitigate the worst aspects of this, but there's no hope of eliminating it. HN is controlled by its community. All that moderation can do is adjust the margins.

it's still rampant. You mitigate the worst aspect of it but you're still left with a anti-Chinese circle jerk.

When people make critical observations about how my country is run and my government, I don’t assume they’re anti-American. Why would you assume that my critique of how a relative handful of elites run a country of over a billion translates to “anti-Chinese”? I don’t trust people who conflate how governments operate, with the populace itself; they are usually trying to gain some rhetorical advantage dishonestly.

HN is open to dissenting opinions, and many of us have them without being anti-something.

Let's be honest here. HN is only open to _certain_ dissenting opinions. If you hold others, people will flame you and then dang will time you out claiming a rules violation without any clarification as to which ones and despite honestly not knowing which ones.

Other users flagrantly violate the rules without issue because they hold the prevailing opinion.

It's very rare to find truly neutral moderators. dang and the other mods are just catering to their core audience, otherwise they would alienate them.

>Don't bother, the anti-Chinese sentiment on HN is rampant and mods don't care.

The anti-Chinese Communist Party sentiment more like. And I would be worried if the mods did care.

Why would mods care? The Chinese hold some uniquely unpopular positions, I'm not sure why the mods should defend them from that. There are plenty of things Western countries get roasted on here for as well.

Aside from this patent dispute, it's interesting to see if there are any innovations left for ICEs. I know one idea is camless:


There doesn't appear to be any claim that Ford directly incorporated any MIT research into their engines? Simultaneous invention happens, and broad patent claims make it even more likely.

The Ford-MIT Alliance began in 1998. I wonder how much, if any, of Ford's money paid for the research by the MIT professors[1]claiming patent on their research.

I would be surprised if MIT-Ford didn't have a lot of legalese set down for just such an occurrence. MIT has been closely tied to industry for good and bad.

[1] http://ssrc.mit.edu/programs/ford-mit-alliance

Curious to see how this goes. IANAL, but wondering why it's taken 3-4 years for this claim to surface? Is there a statute of limitations on IP infringement?

If I'm Ford, I surely would have triple checked every IP angle before putting a new technology in every single vehicle I make. So I'm just guessing that there was some original arrangement which now looks inadequate for the inventors. That or Ford's lawyers messed up in a big way. Just speculating of course.

> If I'm Ford, I surely would have triple checked every IP angle before putting a new technology in every single vehicle I make.

Perhaps they should have known in this particular case. Maybe they did and moved forward anyway.

But in the more general case it turns out that this is pretty much impossible to do, in practice.

How could you possibly be sure that you didn't infringe on any patents when there are hundreds of thousands granted every year in the US alone, and they are deliberately written in the most vague and obscure language possible?

What companies do instead is build a library of their own patents, which they can use against any other entity that sues them for patent infringement. The Apple vs. Samsung patent wars are a good example of this. This strategy generally works if the other party actually makes some sort of thing and is not a patent troll.

This is one of the many reasons that the patent system isn't really a net positive for society. Instead, it can be considered a tax on anyone who participates in it, and society as a whole.

Except for patent attorneys, they make tons and tons of money off it. Everyone else loses.

It can take a long time for a lawsuit to actually happen. There's a lot of ways to drag out negotiations over a patent and it can be a while before both parties can't come to an agreement, resulting in a suit being filed.

Yup. One of the best examples of this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Kearns

A clearly novel invention (intermittent windshield wipers) that took decades and more than $10M legal fees to get paid for.

To be fair, Kearns did represent himself for most of that legal battle. I sure the cases would have been settled much more quickly had he been backed by MIT's lawyers.

If I live to be a thousand years old, I'll never understand how that was considered "novel." But that's just me.

Lots of inventions like this seem obvious in hindsight.

Clearly, without this invention, wipers to this day would still work on a sigle speed, calibrated for heavy rain. Millions of tons of wasted rubber and plastic, etc.

The specific mechanism was quite clever.

"Someone would've eventually invented this" can be said about everything we use. Someone would've figured out the Internet, internal combustion, flying, etc. That doesn't mean it's not a notable accomplishment to do so.

But does every "notable accomplishment" require a 20-year monopoly?

Anytime there's a foot race to the patent office, we, the consumers, are the inevitable loser.

There’s a movie that is sympathetic to kearns. Not the truth, might give some insight.

Also it’s a pretty good movie. So likely not a total waste of time either way.

> If I'm Ford, I surely would have triple checked every IP angle before putting a new technology in every single vehicle I make.

This disregards the strategy of actively predicting the risk of infringing a patent and maximizing profit even after damages are considered.

Your approach is the expectation. The reality is quite a bit darker.

Here's the strategy: you can't take a piss without breaking a patent or ten, so don't even bother checking them. Let the lawyers do their best to fend off the scavengers and consider it a cost of doing business.

Which is kind of what Ford did decades ago with the Pinto fuel tank & rear end design; not with patents, but with injuries & deaths.

Kind of backfired. After several dozen people burned to death in what should have been unremarkable rear-end collisions, it was revealed that Ford had deliberately declined to implement redesigns for safety in favor of just handling the claims because they estimated the costs would be lower (to pay claims vs implement redesign). The subsequent cases set several precedents & provoked reforms.


Similarities between the two end up at "businesses write stuff off as costs of doing business instead of dealing with them up front". One can't just transfer moral judgment from one to the other.

I made no claim that there was any more link than dealing with it as a cost-benefit calculation instead of properly sorting the problem up front.

I was not implying any moral judgement transfer, only the similarity of bad results of failing to deal with issues up front.

Too bad the videos were staged. While not a great design, it was not the disaster you proport. 2 tv shows were found to have faked fires. Fake news is not new.

You are thinking of a different incident with their Trucks in the 2000s, not the Pinto issue from the 1970s/80s.

Failure to get accurate information before spouting off is apparently also not new.

I am not taking sides, because today's Ford Co is not saddled with Henry Ford's controversies, and both MIT and Ford are large organizations. I don't know who is right, a jury might decide.

There is an interesting movie, "Flash of Genius," about Robert Kearns, an inventor and his interactions with Ford over the "delayed windshield wiper."

I won't reveal any details over the movie plot but there is a short scene where Kearns is lecturing his engineering students about engineering ethics, which reminds me of a documentary by PBS: "NOVA: Holocaust on Trial" (2000)

I cannot find this last movie anywhere, but <youtube> has it available. Should be mandatory viewing for engineers, but it is difficult to watch or listen to the details.

The delayed windshield wiper case is not cut and dry (no pun intended). With solid-state electronics (SSE), a delay circuit using capacitors is relatively easy to create. Patents are supposed to be "non-obvious". SSE's were relatively new in the early 60's, but once people got practical experience with them, a delay circuit is obvious to practitioner in that line of work, which in theory should make it non-patentable.

It's kind of like "doing X on the Web" patents where X itself is common and/or unpatentable. Adding web-ness shouldn't change the patentability of X, but for some odd reason it has. When new parts and tools come along, they make the mundane possibly seem innovative for a while until people or judges understand that the new tools are not magic.

The web-based-auction patents are an example. They simply automated manual auctions; any programmer/analyst with industry experience can do that. Running it in a browser didn't make it special, but that apparently bedazzled patent reviewers. (Copyrights can cover look and feel, but I'm talking about functionality.)

The patent office simply does not take seriously, "must be non-obvious to persons having ordinary skill in the art". If 90% of experienced programmer/analysts can code up a web auction system, it's not obvious.

MIT patented a method and device to make the most useless interior electronics package and noisy experience for passengers?

Just another patent troll, MIT isnt immune or righteous - look what they did to Aaron Schwartz.

The patent in question describes a two tank system with separate gasoline and ethanol. Afaik, Ford is not doing anything like that.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact